Purpose 1: Assessing to promote children's learning and development

(age birth to 3) Parents and caregivers observe and respond as children develop language and physical skills.

(age 3 to 5) Parents, caregivers, and preschool teachers use direct measures, including observations of what children are learning, to decide what to teach next.

(age 5 to 7) Teachers use both formal and informal assessments to plan and guide instruction.

Purpose 2: Identifying children for health and special services

(age birth to 3) All children should be screened regularly for health needs, including hearing and vision checks, as part of routine health care services.

Many serious cognitive and physical disabilities are evident at birth or soon thereafter. As soon as developmental delays or potential disabilities are suspected, parents and physicians should seek indepth assessments.

(age 3 to 5) Children entering Head Start and other preschool programs should be screened for health needs, including hearing and vision checks.

Individual children with possible develop mental delays should be referred for indepth assessment.

(age 5 to 7) All children should be screened at school entry for vision and hearing needs and checked for immunizations. Some mild disabilities may only become apparent in the school context. Districts and states must by law have sound teacher and parent referral policies, so that children with potential disabilities are referred for indepth assessment.

Purpose 3: Monitoring trends and evaluating programs and services

(age birth to 3) Because direct measures of children's language and cognitive functioning are difficult to aggregate accurately for ages from birth to 2, state reporting systems should focus on living and social conditions that affect learning and the adequacy of services.

(age 3 to 5) Assessments, including direct and indirect measures of children's physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development, could be constructed and used to evaluate prekindergarten programs, but such measures would not be accurate enough to make high-stakes decisions about individual children.

(age 5 to 7) Beginning at age 5, it is possible to use direct measures, including measures of children's early learning, as part of a comprehensive early childhood assessment for monitoring trends. Matrix sampling should be used to ensure technical accuracy and to provide safeguards for individual children. Because of the cost of such an assessment, states or the nation should pick one grade level for monitoring trends in early childhood, most likely kindergarten or first grade.

Purpose 4: Assessing academic achievement to hold individual students, teachers, and schools accountable

(beyond age eight) Before age eight, standardized achievement measures are not sufficiently accurate to be used for high-stakes decisions about individual children and schools. Therefore, high-stakes assessments intended for accountability purposes should be delayed until the end of third grade (or preferably fourth grade)

Conclusions

Assessment of young children is important both to support the learning of each individual child and to provide data - at the district, state, and national level - for improving services and educational programs.

Ultimately, our goal is to set high expectations for early learning and development, to make sure that no child who falls behind goes unnoticed, and at the same time to help parents and the public understand how varied are the successful paths of early learning, depending on the rate of development, linguistic and cultural experiences, and community contexts.

For more information, or to obtain a copy of the entire report, contact NATIONAL EDUCATIONAL GOALS PANEL, 1255 22nd Street N.W., Suite 502, Washington, DC 20037 202-724-0015, FAX 202-632-0957; www.negp.gov; e-mail: NEG@goalline.org.